For many years, citizens in Hong Kong enjoyed the benefits of the city’s very high employment rate, which provided a wide range of work opportunities as well as financial security. Young people entering the job market could expect to have a choice of interesting roles available, and a rewarding career path ahead.
The Covid-19 pandemic has put the brakes on this situation. Hong Kong’s overall unemployment rate has risen to more than 7%, while youth unemployment is even higher, at more than 10%.
This is to be expected, given the severity and duration of the global pandemic. Although the Government’s Employment Support Scheme helped many people during the crisis, inevitably, the slowdown has led to job losses.
But there are reasons to be hopeful. Vaccine roll-outs globally mean that a return to normal business operations is coming ever closer. And here in Hong Kong, we have the huge advantage of our proximity to the only major economy to return to growth in 2020. While much of the world is still suffering from the economic downturn, the Chinese Mainland managed to record 6% growth last year.
In particular, the Mainland cities of the Greater Bay Area (GBA) just across the border offer huge opportunities for business and career development. For young people and companies alike, the Greater Bay Area Youth Employment Scheme – or GBAYES – which was proposed by the Chamber was launched in January and is another boost. GBAYES will provide a monthly subsidy of HK$10,000 to businesses who hire people who graduate between 2019 and 2021, on salaries of at least HK$18,000.
Around 40 HKGCC member companies have signed up to date, offering around 450 places. HSBC, the largest foreign bank in the Mainland, recently set up a dedicated office in the GBA and is offering around 100 places for Hong Kong youngsters.
“GBA is a vibrant city cluster, where we have seen a significant increase in demand for internationally competitive banking services,” said Betty Lam, Head of Human Resources, Hong Kong, at HSBC. “It is where the future of financial services is being written.”
The company’s footprint in the GBA means it is in a great position to support the GBAYES initiative, she added: “We are keen to help Hong Kong young people gain exposure to GBA markets, which are only going to become more integrated as time passes, and to attract talent to a career in banking and finance.”
Lam explained that HSBC’s GBA recruits will be in two placement streams: general placement, and innovation and technology. The general placement streams include commercial banking, global banking, and wealth and personal banking, in roles such as customer services, data and analytics, operations support and project management. These graduates will undergo on-the-job training in a GBA city for the full duration of their placement.
The innovation and technology placements will typically be located in HSBC’s Digital Business Services function and will include data analysts, full stack engineers and technical specialists. They will start working in Hong Kong and then rotate to Guangzhou for at least six months.
“Over the course of the placement, participants will gain first-hand experience in the business area for which they are recruited,” Lam said. “They can also expect a combination of varied on-the-job practical experience, project-based work and functional exposure.”
And although GBAYES is set to run for 18 months, it could be a gateway to a long-term career.
“We are keen to recruit the strong performers for permanent roles at HSBC in any location after they successfully complete the scheme,” Lam said.
PwC is another of the major recruiters under the scheme. It plans to hire more than 100 graduates, who will mostly be employed in financial services, including capital markets.
“I think GBAYES is very important as it offers a great opportunity for Hong Kong’s young people,” said Raymund Chao, Asia Pacific & China Chairman at PwC.
He added that besides traditional financial services, including auditing, accounting, taxation and consultation services, PwC’s business also covers innovation and technology, and also has the other key departments typical of a large global company. So PwC will be able to offer placements to graduates across a range of their business divisions. “This scheme is very beneficial in terms of helping us to nurture young talent for Hong Kong,” Chao said.
Depending on the role, the PwC graduates may spend all of their placement in the Mainland city, or may work between Hong Kong and across the border, Chao explained.
“For example, if the employee is responsible for an IPO project of a GBA enterprise to be listed in Hong Kong, the graduate may be mostly working in the GBA, but with the need to work in Hong Kong occasionally as well.”
Also participating in GBAYES are Gammon and Zung Fu – two Jardine Matheson companies in the areas of construction and luxury cars, respectively. Hayly Leung, General Manager, Group Human Resource Services, Group Human Resources, at Jardine Matheson, explained why the company had decided to join the scheme.
“We think that it is a very meaningful programme,” she said. “We really appreciate that there has been a high unemployment rate for graduates in 2019 and 2020, so it is a great opportunity to help these young graduates to find jobs.”
The substantial subsidy of $10,000 per month also makes it a “win-win situation” for businesses.
Jardines already has a significant presence in Mainland China, and the GBA is one of the company’s targeted areas for expansion.
“The entire GBA is a very strategically important area to us, and also a growth area,” she said. “Many reforms have already been carried out, and the physical infrastructure is now in place.”
The participation of Zung Fu highlights the diverse range of roles open to the graduates under the scheme. Participants with the right people skills and personality can enjoy the opportunity to shine in Zung Fu’s luxury car dealerships across the GBA.
Graduates that get a place with Jardines will also enjoy being part of a large conglomerate: it has around 400,000 employees in total.
“The benefits for the graduates include the many opportunities from their early entry into the growing area of the GBA,” Leung said. “And they will also benefit from support from our company’s training and development programmes. Life learning is something that we believe in, and invest a lot in.”
For many businesses in Hong Kong, the GBA’s population of 72 million and per capita GDP of US$23,000 provide huge investment potential and a massive consumer market. Surveys of HKGCC members have consistently revealed exceptionally strong support for the GBA initiative.
“Here at the Chamber, we can see the many advantages of the Mainland GBA cities,” said Chamber Chairman Peter Wong. “Hong Kong’s students may not have had the experience to explore the region yet, and may not be fully aware of the fantastic opportunities available. So the GBAYES scheme will broaden their horizons in many ways.”
Chamber member companies to date have offered around 450 places under the scheme, almost 25% of the total available.
“We are delighted to see the successful roll-out of GBAYES and its adoption by many of our members so far,” Wong added. “Giving Hong Kong’s next generation of professionals such a great start to their careers will benefit not only the new graduates, but also the whole business community in Hong Kong.”
Outsized Impact of Youth Unemployment
Youth unemployment has a negative impact not only on the young people directly affected, but also on wider society. Hong Kong’s youth unemployment rate reached 19.7% for those aged 20-24 between August and October 2020.
The growth in the youth unemployment rate in the past year is not a surprise, as at times of crisis it is usually young people who are first to lose their jobs. In addition, more young people tend to work in the sectors that have been hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, like tourism and hospitality, and in jobs where working from home is not an option.
For the young people affected, a period of youth employment can have an outsized impact, including lower earning potential throughout the rest of their lives, health problems and unhappiness. Young people are also less likely to have money saved for emergencies, meaning they are more likely to fall into debt and suffer from longer term financial problems.
According to a 2020 report by U.S. non-profit Mercy Corps: “If left unchecked, youth unemployment can have serious social repercussions, because unemployed youth tend to feel left out, leading to social exclusion, anxiety and a lack of hope for the future.”
Schemes to help young people into work therefore are crucial to help Hong Kong’s young people to find satisfying jobs and financial stability, and also to underpin the city’s social harmony and continuing prosperity.
GBAYES at a Glance
2,000: total places available
700: places allocated to innovation and technology
HK$10,000: monthly subsidy provided by the HKSAR Government
HK$18,000: minimum monthly salary to be paid to graduates
2019-2021: graduating years for eligible participants
18 months: length of scheme
Open to businesses that have operations in both Hong Kong and Mainland GBA cities
Graduates should start work before 31 August 2021